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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 879


Mr KENT(10.39) —Last week, 21 March was Afghan International Day. It was also the beginning of the Afghan New Year and the first day of spring in Afghanistan. Since the Soviet invasion 21 March has assumed an additional significance as it is celebrated as Afghan International Day all around the world and amongst the millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran. In December 1979 the Soviet Union sent thousands of its troops into neighbouring Afghanistan to prop up the unpopular regime of Babrak Karmal. Since then the Soviet troops have been used to maintain Karmal in power in Kabul. My Party, the Australian Labor Party, and the Australian Government are opposed to the Soviet invasion. I am opposed to the invasion of Afghanistan. Such action by a big power to impose its will on a small neighbour is to be condemned by all those who esteem and support the right of self-determination of all people, small and big.

I view the Soviet action in Afghanistan with the same disgust as I view the United States military intervention in Central America and I condemn both with the same vehemence. I hope that honourable members opposite will join me in condemning the US action, the long string of US military interventions in Central America, just as they are willing to join me in condemning the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. In the last five years the Soviet army has fought many battles against the mujahideen and it is no closer to achieving complete control over Afghanistan than it was five years ago. The people of Afghanistan do not and will not accept foreign rule. They are a free people and are fighting for their independence. The British learnt to their detriment that the freedom loving people of that mountainous region overlooking the crossroads of Asia will not accept foreign rule.

In 1981 I visited Pakistan and had the opportunity to see the Khyber Pass. I stood right on the Afghan border looking down into Afghanistan. I felt that the ancient tradition of love of freedom and independence of those mountain tribes that inhabit that rugged but magnificent country will not be easily subdued, even by modern arms of a foreign power. At the same time while visiting the area I came into contact with the refugee problem and the enormous suffering caused by years of fighting. At that stage, in 1981, there were by the most conservative estimates more than a million Afghan refugees in Pakistan alone. I have seen the camps, the tents and the mud huts, and while there was no starvation amongst the refugees, thanks to the generosity of international relief agencies, life in the camps was miserable. The Afghan refugees escaped the fighting and the dogmatic influence of a foreign power only to come under the influence of Pakistani Islamic fundamentalists. What a choice, and what a choice of dictators, to live under Zia or Karmal! However, since I was there the situation has worsened and the number of refugees is now put as high as four million.

Thousands of civilians died as a result of fighting and many more thousands were injured. Many people have lost their crops and livestock and there are widespread food shortages. The world should be made aware of the suffering and the misery of the Afghan people. Our Government has provided generously in the past to relieve the plight of the Afghan refugees. However, there is still more need for humanitarian aid. At the same time we have to work towards the achievement of a negotiated peaceful solution. Unless the fighting is stopped, unless the millions of refugees are resettled into their homeland, the instability of the region will continue. What is even worse, the suffering of the Afghan people will go on, the suffering which can be prevented by peaceful negotiations, while war and continuous fighting will not resolve anything. Therefore, I hope that our Government will do everything it can to bring about peace in that region.